That the estranged leaders of Pakistan and India made an attempt to revive a stalled dialogue process in Russia on Friday is an encouraging step towards a cessation in recent bitter hostilities.
Despite being visceral rivals, the prime minister’s spokesman in a conversation with Dawn.com dubbed the meeting between the statesmen a “victory for Pakistan”; Indian papers echoed the same euphoria, as the Indian Ministry of External Affairs hailed it as a “productive” meeting.
But back at home, opposition parties were not so starry-eyed.
Soon after Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi shook hands at the Congress hall in Ufa and signaled a symbolic ceasefire in a heated political arena, an infuriated Senator Rehman Malik dispatched a press release that detailed his reading of the icebreaker.
“The recent meeting [of] Modi with Sharif clearly demonstrates how disrespectful Mr Modi was towards Sharif,” Malik was quoted by a spokesman as saying.
The former interior minister compared Modi to “the Tsar of Russia” as he described how the two state leaders interacted.
“[Our prime minister] was made to walk through a long corridor towards Modi’s chair/throne. [Modi] didn’t show the slightest courtesy under diplomatic norms for his Pakistani counterpart to walk a few steps forward to receive him.”
At the end, he termed Modi’s approach “rude and undiplomatic,” adding that it “badly hurt the feelings of the Pakistani nation”.
Not one to be left behind, Shireen Mazari of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) expressed dismay over the manner in which she felt Sharif “appeased India” in the meeting.
Mazari felt that Sharif’s invitation to the Indian head of state was unnecessary and “beyond the requirements of diplomatic protocol”, as the same would have gone out as a matter of routine.
The PTI leader was equally disturbed at what she said was silence on the Kashmir issue and Indian involvement in Balochistan. “Modi raised Mumbai and Sharif agreed to ‘fast track’ the investigations. Not a word on Samjhota Express was uttered by PM Sharif,” she fumed.
'Making a mountain out of a molehill’
Dr Mussadik Malik, spokesperson for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, appeared equally infuriated with the criticism of the premier.
Speaking to Dawn.com, he said, “With friends like him [Rehman Malik], who needs enemies?" “He is making a mountain out of a molehill. When two leaders of international stature meet, such minor details do not matter."
He continued to say that Modi was the one to initiate contact when he called Nawaz to extend wishes for Ramazan.
“Again the Indian government had confirmed the meeting between the two leaders on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.”
The meetings of Indian and Pakistani heads of state have historically invited overzealous scrutiny from both countries.
|Nawaz Sharif and Manmohan Singh met for just over one hour at a New York hotel on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting in September,2013. — AFP/file|
Before Modi took power, a controversy preceded the interaction of Sharif and then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and seemingly made bigger news than the actual meeting.
Read more: The 'dehati aurat' controversy
The controversy, which began with a remark, drew interesting reactions from a number of members of the Indian government as well as the opposition, putting these in an interesting light as India geared for national elections in 2014.
In 2002 during General (retd) Pervez Musharraf’s era, the former president forced then Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to rise and shake hands with him at SAARC, a move that many believed could help deter the two countries from their untenable logic of war.
Also read: Handshake with Vajpayee charms Saarc
The Indian leader got up from his seat and extended his hand to Musharraf. The applause that followed the clasp came close to deafening decibels and many in the media teams from India and Pakistan appeared to have lost their composure for a while to join the clapping.
With additional reporting from Irfan Haider in Islamabad
Correction: An earlier version of this article misquoted Senator Rehman Malik as saying that PM Sharif has hurt the nation. The senator was in fact referring to the Indian premier. The error is regretted.